The Supreme Court needs a Supreme Change


Gabe Jaffe, Contributing Writer

Today, the Supreme Court is inherently flawed. Since its creation in 1787, the court system has barely changed. As the nation’s highest legal authority, we trust the Supreme Court to make verdicts that affect all of our lives every single day, but when was the last time we examined the structure by which the court is assembled and makes its rulings?

The Supreme Court is comprised of nine Justices, each able to serve for their entire lifetime. When vacancies open up, the sitting president nominates a judge of their choice and brings them before the Senate for confirmation. If a majority of senators vote for that nominee, they are confirmed to the court. 

To form a system of checks and balances, the Founding Fathers established the court to create a governing body secluded from politics, whose job eventually became the enforcement of the Constitution. While the purpose of the court has not changed to this day, the Supreme Court envisioned by the Founding Fathers is not at all a reality.

Life expectancy in 1787 was far lower than it is today, meaning any Justice appointed to the court was likely to serve for only a handful of years. In fact, the first five Justices served for an average of seven years each. So, in the eyes of the Founding Fathers, serving a lifelong term did not seem like a serious commitment. Today, however, the average term length is around 27 years, and that number is only expected to increase. 

By appointing Justices for life, the Founding Fathers aimed to offer them complete job security, thus removing them from political pressure. In the 1789 Congress’ fairytale, it would make sense that a Justice who is guaranteed job security could focus solely on their constitutional duties and avoid the influences of political pressures. The problem is that when they wrote down these laws, the members of Congress could not have imagined the polarization of political parties that exists today.

Today, presidents see filling a vacancy on the court as an opportunity to appoint a judge who shares their own or their constituents’ political beliefs. In doing so, they completely disregard the constitutional knowledge and ability of candidates, instead prioritizing their beliefs when nominating. For this reason, Justices are incredibly politically motivated, and rather than looking to the Constitution to determine whether something is constitutional, they cherry-pick language from the Constitution that supports their preexisting beliefs. 

To make matters worse, due to lifetime terms, Justices who support a certain political ideology continue to make politically motivated rulings for decades on end. If we look through the lens of the battle between liberals and conservatives on the court, each time a seat is “flipped,” constitutional verdicts shift toward one side for years.

Karla Moreira/Art Director

A clear example of this ridiculous situation can be seen through the transition between former Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Amy Coney Barrett. Ginsburg sat on the court for 27 years until September 18th, 2020. During Republican Donald Trump’s presidency, and shortly before the 2020 election, when Ginsburg died, Trump moved quickly to appoint conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett to replace her, and the Republican-led Senate (it does not get more political than this) pushed her through to confirmation. This confirmation occurred despite the fact that four years earlier, the same Republican-led Senate refused to confirm Democratic President Obama’s nomination, claiming that appointments should not be made during election cycles. Seems pretty contradictory.

The result of this flip will be felt for many decades as Barrett continues to sit on the bench. In fact, we have already seen a massive consequence. In June of 2022, the new Supreme Court released a decision to the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case that overturned its ruling of Roe v. Wade from 1973. Roe v. Wade had guaranteed access to abortions for all Americans forty years prior to the Dobbs decision. This decision was only possible after this flip, as Barrett became the fifth vote to overturn Roe. To be clear, because one person died in September of 2020 (as opposed to four months later when a Democrat would be in the White House), forty years of widely accepted law was upended. The Constitution did not change between these two rulings, and neither did the safety or efficacy of abortions. Someone just died. NAnd now, due to the lifetime terms possessed by Justices on the court, rulings such as the Dobbs case likely will not change anytime in the near future.